Category Archives: wider world

Owl with Juneteenth Flag feathers

Looking Back at Rice University’s First Annual Reflections on Juneteenth

On this MLK Day, I look back at Rice University’s Juneteenth lecture series from last year (June 2020), and provide links to the talks themselves. This lecture series at Rice (which Rice intends to do annually) was meant to reflect, learn, and begin a conversation on how to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community at Rice and beyond. The included talks cover reflections on racial and residential patterns in Houston ISD schools, rates of intermarriage and health patterns in places with high historical rates of enslavement, the journalistic practices in covering BlackLivesMatter protests, Texas’ slavery history, as well as how to reduce racism and bias in the work place.

Some of my takeaways:

  • Dr. Alexander Byrd asked “Is it racist to ask the question, ‘Is this school too Black’?” and concluded that it is, but asking questions about where faculty live relative to students and whether faculty reflect the student body or the wider city diversity and how those patterns have changed over time can help uncover patterns that promote or harm equity. 
  • The neighborhoods and counties in the south with the most enslavement have the least inter-racial marriage and continue to have higher rates of adverse health like amputations from diabetes. 
  • The media is covering the Black Lives Matter movement more now than they did after Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, but public opinion punishes protesters when the media focuses on violence no matter who perpetrates the violence.
  • Slavery was expanding in Texas before and during the civil war, in contrast to the way Texas history was taught in the past, downplaying the role of slavery in Texas.  
  • Emerging research shows that anti-bias training and ally training can work to improve organizational climate, especially if people take the perspective of someone unlike themselves, and create and write goals for themselves. 

Juneteenth has passed, but the relevance of these issues have not, and I figured readers may have missed them. What better day than today to take the opportunity to revisit, review, and reflect.

I took a few notes on the lectures that I saw in this post, which may help you decide what to dig into. I did not see all of them, so not all have notes. I include links directly to each of the talks and in a few places, I include links to resources that were mentioned in the talks.

Original Announcement: Reflections on Juneteenth

Full video playlist

Session 1: Youtube (Byrd, Bratter, Walligora-Davis) 

Introduction: Dr. Reginald DesRoches, Rice University Provost
Race, Schools, and Freedom Now
Dr. Alexander Byrd, Associate Professor of History, Associate Dean of Humanities

Dr. Byrd asked “Is it racist to ask the question, ‘is this school too black’?”. He then brings more context to the question by looking at the residential and racial composition of students and faculty at three Houston high schools (Bellaire, Yates, and Austin) of both students and faculty, and how that has changed from 1950s to 2012 and 2019. And then he asks how those residential and racial patterns influence the community and power networks available to those schools. He concludes that the question IS racist, but the contextual analysis can help uncover potential patterns that would be more equitable.  
Reflecting on the Lessons of Juneteenth: Racial (In)Justice And the Role of Place
Dr. Jenifer Bratter, Professor of Sociology, Director, Race Scholars at Rice

Dr. Bratter studies the rates of intermarriage in order to shed light on race relations and continuing race effects across the U.S. Her data show patterns across the US. You can map trends onto counties with the highest number of enslaved people and see clear patterns. For instance – very low rates of intermarriage are correlated with high rates of past enslavement. Her data can also be used to look at trends in health. High rates of amputation due to diabetes are also highly correlated with those same counties that had high rates of enslavement. The point she made is that effects of slavery can be seen very clearly and directly. 
Black Records: Race and Criminal Justice under Jim Crow
Dr. Nicole Waligora-Davis, Associate Professor of English

Session 2: Youtube: (Torres, McDaniel, Sidbury)

Framing a Protest: The Determinants and Impact of Media Coverage
Dr. Michelle Torres, Assistant Professor of Political Science

Dr. Torres analyzes news coverage of events. Both liberal and conservative news sources are covering the Black Lives Matter protests at a higher rate than they covered earlier protests (Fergusen for example). The coverage, however,  differs in depiction of the magnitude of the protests. Liberal leaning coverage is more likely to show images of the magnitude of the protest and this is associated with more positive views of the protesters. Depictions of violence, no matter whether the violence comes from protesters or authorities negatively impacts perception of the protesters.  
Slavery Before and After Juneteenth
Dr. Caleb McDaniel, Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of Humanities

Dr. McDaniel gave a succinct history of Texas during the civil war and  local history nearby. Slavery was expanding in Texas and continued throughout the civil war. Slavery history was not taught in schools this way. He pointed toward the convict leasing and labor project and the Sugarland 95 (which is a mass grave recently uncovered). He also said that Emancipation Park was purchased originally by formerly enslaved people, but then ceded to the city and resegregated. 

Resources mentioned:
Convict Leasing and Labor Project
Urgency and Patience on this Juneteenth
Dr. James Sidbury, Professor of History, Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Professor of Humanities

Resources mentioned:
* Dr. Martin Luther King’s letters from a Birmingham jail Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute
* Supreme Court Decision Grutter v. Bollinger – Whether the use of race as a factor in student admissions by the University of Michigan Law School is unlawful GRUTTER V. BOLLINGER
* Video recordings of police brutality GeorgeFloyd Protest – police brutality videos on Twitter

Special Guest Speaker Youtube: (Matthews)

A conversation on the significance of Juneteenth with Captain Paul J. Matthews, Founder and Chairman, Buffalo Soldiers National Museum 
Moderator: Dr. Roland B. Smith, Jr., Associate Provost, Adjunct Professor of Sociology

Session 3: Youtube (King, Hayes, Hebl)

The Need for Psychological Change and Anti-Racism for Effective Organizations
Dr. Danielle King, Assistant Professor of Psychological Sciences

Dr. King studies resilience in the workplace and advises on diversity and inclusion. She said that there are no quick and easy fixes because ‘denial is the heartbeat of racism’, and she talked about the need for safe places for healing from racism and the effects of microaggressions. 
A Bill of Rights for Whom? Racial Bias and the Second Amendment
Dr. Matthew Hayes, Assistant Professor of Political Science
How Individuals and Organizations can Reduce Racism
Dr. Mikki Hebl, Martha and Henry Malcolm Lovett Chair of Psychology, Professor of Management

Dr. Hebl gave pointers to workplaces that are doing a good job of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and gave suggestions of approaches.
* Conduct an organizational needs analysis
* Get leadership buy in and participate
* Remove ‘fit’ from hiring criteria
* Use resumes with names/gender removed
* Create structured interviews and rubrics for hiring

The following questions and Dr. Hebl’s answers are from a follow up rebroadcast of this lecture as part of a series by the Rice architecture department.
Q: How do you measure success after recruitment? A: Use the ASA model: Attraction, Selection, and Attrition. Once people are recruited and selected, they may cover up how they are really feeling and then feel that they can’t be their authentic selves. To combat this, she recommends surveying and conducting focus groups to understand what BIPOC folks at your organization need to be successful. Typically that involves ‘listening’, ‘amplifying voices’, and providing mentors and sponsors.
Q: What research is there on the effectiveness of bias training? Dr. Hebl answered with techniques shown to be effective in research:
Ask people to set goals – Bias training alone isn’t necessarily effective. It is important that managers receive training, not just new hires. Asking training participants to set personal goals about how they will be anti-racist leads to behavior change and eventually attitude change. Goal setting might include things like not laughing at inappropriate jokes, attending an orientation, etc. 
Ask people to write from another’s perspective.  Ask people to write from the perspective of others – “What would it be like to be a Black person at this place?” Writing with the perspective of another shifts attitudes more quickly. 
Ally training can help shift perspectives: Based on some of Dr. Hebl’s research with the University of Houston: In particular, White people often do not notice behaviors that undermine their minority colleagues. That might be because it is outside their zone of experience, or they don’t see the behaviors as significant because when they do see them, they aren’t seeing the accumulation of those experiences. Ally training can shift those perspectives.

Resources mentioned:
* Ben and Jerry’s website
* Organizations Cannot Afford to Stay Silent on Racial Injustice from MIT Sloan Review 
* Is Your Company Actually Fighting Racism, or Just Talking About It? Harvard Business Review
Help people figure out how to talk to each other about race, especially White leaders and supervisors who struggle to communicate about what their company is doing
Determine how progress will be tracked 
* Diversity & Inclusion at MD Anderson
* How to Conduct a Training Needs Assessment
* Diversity Training Needs Assessment
* Harvard Business Review: Fear of Being Different Stifles Talent  
personified lock (unlocked) fighting personified corona virus

Open Vs. COVID Round 2: Collaborating for the Knockout

Opening up information is one of the keys to a concerted and effective response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. We need to make sure that insights from the world-wide treatment efforts are discovered quickly and shared widely to ensure effective preventions and treatments spread. A case in point on the power of coordinating and sharing medical information comes from the Castleman’s Collaborative, illustrating how open processes and open resources can be an asset to humanity in this global health crisis.

“Doing in a year what often takes a decade.1 I recently caught Terry Gross’ interview with David Fajgenbaum on Fresh Air about ‘crowdsourcing’ a cure for Castleman’s disease, which he suffers from. It’s a great listen. Castleman’s is a deadly disease for which little is known because of its rarity and the dispersal of cases. Luckily for the world, Fejgenbaum was in medical school when he had his first attack and, because he was close to finishing his medical degree, he began researching.  He discovered that little coordinated information and study was available. The Castleman’s Collaborative,, has come up with an eight step research process that is crowdsourced, prioritized, funded, executed, and published (almost all freely available). Much of the research targets off-label use of FDA-approved drugs, since development of specifically targeted new drugs is prohibitively expensive and time consuming, but many, many drugs already exist and might be effective. While, individually, rare diseases impact few people, cumulatively, many many rare conditions impact large numbers of people, and so applying this collaborative method can be tremendously impactful. 

They are applying the same collaborative method to COVID19 treatment: The Castleman Collaborative is now applying the methodology to COVID19, Their first step is compiling a database of off-label use of drugs to treat COVID19 symptoms, aptly named CORONA for COvid19 Registry of Off-label & New Agents. Having that database openly available to those around the world who are researching treatments helps prevent duplication, combine efforts in the medical community, and lets researchers and practitioners build on each other’s knowledge, which has always been the promise and practice of science.  

‘Open’ is a critical tool for solving hard, global problems. Open resources (education, data, software) and collaborative processes are unique in their ability to pivot to address new crises and public concerns, because they remove barriers to building on previous work and disseminating knowledge quickly and widely. In the case of the pandemic, this gives open collaboration a fighting chance against the virus, which also spreads widely and builds on its own infectious success. My day job is helping students learn and achieve by building effective products, which also benefits from and is accelerated by open content, open research, and collaborative team processes. My interest in open software started in graduate school and the more I learn, the more I believe in its potential to help the world. In this global health crisis, open solutions are continuing to establish themselves as an integral part of the thriving open software ecosystem that I am proud to be a part of. 

1 From the Castleman Collaborative website, July 6, 2020

b&w drawing of covid19 virus next to black hand

The Two Pandemics

Taking a backseat: My blogging on product management and fair and equitable AI has taken a backseat lately to the historical pandemics sweeping the United States and the world. COVID19 swept through the world, striking down the physically and economically vulnerable, a population that is disproportionately composed of black, indigenous, and people of color. Then, the death of George Floyd at the knee of the police dramatically spotlighted the effects of systematic racism, prompting a resistance to the structures that have long oppressed black Americans and individuals worldwide. 

Lifting up the voices of others: I am not an expert on either pandemic, and I am young enough, white enough, healthy enough, and technical enough not to have suffered from either personally. That lack of expertise and experience has meant that I haven’t wanted to throw in my voice, but at the same time, as the signs at the march on Tuesday here in Houston said, ‘silence = complicity.’  Instead of adding my voice, I’d like to uplift the voices of others who have been fighting for equality long before this worldwide outpouring of attention, and to whom I look for strategies to sustain this movement for justice past its current hot-topic moment into real, lasting change.

How to be an ally: Here is Sojourner’s ‘For our white friends desiring to be allies’: Some of what is in that article: Listen more, talk less. Learn more and read more (with a great reading list) before asking, but then ask. Stop being so surprised by outrageous racism and stop wishful thinking about color blindness. Finally, keep trying, keep showing up.    

Local Houston resources for action and understanding: Rice for Black Lives raised over $90,000 in a single day for four Houston organizations, Black Lives Matter Houston, Texas Organizing Project, Indivisible Houston, and Pure Justice. Dr. Howard Henderson, who directs Texas Southern University’s Center for Justice Research, founded the center specifically to research race, the criminal justice system, and society in one location. He discusses George Floyd, the reaction in the country and Houston, what research says, and what the center is studying now.  

Thinking about sustaining movements: Right now, to create a humane society, there are many things to work on, and so I have been thinking a lot about what is required to ‘win’ and sustain achievements. Two writers that I have been reading and recommend are Jane McAlevey and Erica Chenoweth. Each is writing about what is required to build a movement and achieve change. McAlevey writes about union organizing based on her experience as an organizer and Chenoweth studies the characteristics of successful political movements to replace non-democratic, authoritarian leaders, using data from 1900 to now. Although each is writing about movements that aren’t directly related to the current situation, their analysis provides concrete pathways to effect change.

Jane McAlevey: A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy  McAlevey talks about how to win change by increasing support and numbers, not just mobilizing the existing base of support, and then building and sustaining the capacity to take action strategically to achieve change. Key aspects of her methods are:

  • Increasing support by identifying organic leaders 
  • Building coalitions by listening (what are the three things YOU would change) 
  • Building participatory organizations
  • Creating hard tests to measure the capacity for action before deploying it. 

With a union, winning the vote to establish the union is just the first step. What comes after is crucial – sustaining the pressure to achieve actual change. Maybe this is what has been missing with political voting. Getting a candidate in is only the first step. Getting the candidate to represent requires continued strategic pressure.

Erica Chenoweth: “Drop Your Weapons – When and Why Civil Resistance Works in Foreign Affairs. This journal requires a subscription, which you can often borrow through your local library. You can also hear her on the Ezra Klein Show podcast. She identifies three aspects always present in successful movements: mass participation, defections from the ranks of the resisted, and flexible tactics (protests, strikes, boycotts, etc.) The global and wide-spread national response to George Floyd’s death (mass participation) have the potential to position this as a strategic moment for real systematic change.

I have committed my time to making knowledge more accessible through Connexions, my Shuttleworth Foundation fellowship, OpenStax where I work now, and through this blog by sharing what I have learned from others, from research, and from experience. I hope by sharing these resources and my personal takeaways from them I can help to support a movement I believe is long overdue.